UK officials head to France for Channel crossing talks following deaths of 27

Why Wednesday's tragedy has not deterred people in refugee camps from attempting the dangerous Channel crossing, reports ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger from Calais

The home secretary will meet her French counterpart and UK officials will head to France in a bid to find a way to stop deadly Channel crossings after 27 people died trying to reach Britain.

UK officials are set to head to Paris on Friday, while Priti Patel will meet French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday to offer France more assistance in controlling the crisis.

Children and a heavily pregnant woman were among 27 people who died while trying to cross the English Channel in a bid to reach the UK, French officials confirmed earlier.

Wednesday's fatal crossing saw 17 men, seven women, two teenage boys and a young girl die after the inflatable boat they were travelling on got into difficulty.

Identities of the dead have not yet been determined but French authorities told ITV News that those onboard were from Kurdistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

There were just two survivors. Two men were saved from the sea alive and treated for hypothermia - one had travelled from Somalia and the other from Iraq, ITV News understands.

Dozens more migrants arrived in Dover on Thursday morning as authorities continue to on plans to deter English Channel crossings, ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports

On Thursday, the body of a young man was found on a beach between Calais and Sangatte. It is understood that his death was not linked to the tragedy on Wednesday.

Mr Darmanin said five suspected people smugglers had been arrested in connection with the tragedy after President Emmanuel Macron warned: “France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery".

The French prosecutors’ office said magistrates are investigating potential charges of homicide, unintentional wounding, assisting illegal migration and criminal conspiracy.

A group of people wait on a bus after being brought in to Dover. Credit: PA

Mr Darmanin said the smugglers are “criminals, people who exploit the misery of others, of women and children – there were pregnant women, children who died yesterday on that boat… and for a few thousand euros they promise them ‘El Dorado in England’."

ITV News understands the crossings have continued overnight and on Thursday morning.

President Macron said he was requesting “extra help” from the UK on Thursday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written to French President Emmanuel Macron to set out a five-point plan to tackle the migrant crisis.

The five points of the plan, which was announced by the prime minister on Twitter, are:

  • Joint patrols on French beaches to prevent boats from entering the English Channel

  • Deploying more advanced technology, like sensors and radar.

  • Patrols from both sies in the UK's and France's territorial waters and in the air

  • Deepening the work of the Joint Intelligence Cell, with better real-time sharing of information to deliver more arrests and prosecutions

  • Immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France, alongside talks to establish a UK-EU returns agreement.

Mr Johnson said: “If those who reach this country were swiftly returned, the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers would be significantly reduced.

“This would be the single biggest step we could take together to reduce the draw to Northern France and break the business model of criminal gangs.

“I am confident that by taking these steps and building on our existing cooperation we can address illegal migration and prevent more families from experiencing the devastating loss we saw yesterday.”

The prime minister had spoken to Mr Macron on Wednesday evening where it was agreed to “keep all options on the table”, Downing Street said.

The Home Office said Ms Patel held "constructive talks" with Mr Darmanin on Thursday evening.

A statement from the Home Office said: "The ministers underlined the need for deeper co-operation on stopping the Channel crossings, and the need to work closely with European partners.

"She offered to work with France to put more officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats."

Dozens more people arrived in two boats on the shores of Dover this morning while the government searched for a way to stop them, ITV News UK Home Editor Paul Brand reports

Mr Macron said France has never had more law and order forces mobilised to combat illegal immigration than it has now, adding that more than two-thirds of attempted crossings on Wednesday were prevented, and since January 7,800 rescues have taken place.

Ms Patel said she was glad President Macron had "indicated his determination to stop the vile people smuggling gangs" and to work closely with all partners across Europe.

Earlier on Thursday, she told MPs: "I've literally just spoken again with my French counterpart Minister Darmanin and I've once again reached out and made my offer very clear to France in terms of joint France and UK co-operation, joint patrols to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place.

"I've offered to work with France to put officers on the ground and do absolutely whatever is necessary to secure the area so that vulnerable people do not risk their lives by getting into unseaworthy boats."

Inflatable ribs are popular among people smugglers as they can carry more than small speed boats, which were previously preferred. Credit: PA

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the arrests but said he wished more had been done sooner, adding he was "frustrated" with Ms Patel, claiming she is failing to deal with migrant crossings effectively.

He said: "We've got to improve our law enforcement here because the people smugglers, the traffickers, have got a real hold on these desperate people, we've got to break that," he told reporters.

"I'm also frustrated that the home secretary makes no end of headline-grabbing statements but isn't doing anything to deal with this effectively."

Immigration minister Kevin Foster told ITV News the French and British governments were focusing on "breaking the business model" of the "ruthless" people traffickers who attempt to bring vulnerable migrants to the UK.

Mr Foster said cooperation between the two nations needed to go "further", suggesting future talks will focus on allowing British forces to operate in French territories and vice versa.

He said a "returns agreement" with France and the EU is still on offer after it was rejected in Brexit negotiations - the policy would see failed asylum seekers returned to the first safe country they arrived in after fleeing their own.

The idea is that traveling from Africa or Asia through Europe to the UK would be less appealing to migrants if they thought they would be sent back, therefore reducing the potential profits for people smugglers.

Priti Patel provided the Commons with an update on the migrant situation after 27 people died in the English Channel. Credit: Parliament

When the UK was in the EU, it signed the Dublin Agreement, which allows member countries to return migrants to the first safe country they reach - Britain was cut out of the deal after Brexit.

The government has also refused to rule out using "pushback" tactics, which would see UK Border Force turning migrant boats back to France after they reach British waters.

There is strong opposition however to the controversial strategy which has been labelled dangerous and possibly illegal.

'It's pretty choppy out here and yet still overnight boats have been trying to cross': Paul Brand reports from the Channel

On Thursday it was revealed that asylum claims made in the UK have risen to their highest level for nearly 20 years, according to new figures from the Home Office.

A total of 37,562 applications were made in the year to September - more than in any 12-month period since the year to June 2004 (39,746) and higher than the numbers seen at the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 (36,546).

Following a meeting of the COBR emergencies committee on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said it was clear that French operations to stop the migrant boats leaving “haven’t been enough” despite £54 million of UK support.He said the people traffickers were “literally getting away with murder” and that he hoped the French would now find the renewed offer of joint patrols “acceptable”.

“We’ve had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves,” he said.

“I understand the difficulties that all countries face, but what we want now is to do more together – and that’s the offer we are making.”